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Learn While You Earn: How to Balance Work While Pursuing an MS in Computer Science

January 10, 2024

A master’s degree in computer science can boost your career prospects significantly. MSCS students develop advanced skills and specialized knowledge that make them more marketable computing professionals. Most degree programs offer networking opportunities that expose students to peers, mentors, and prospective employers, all invaluable professional contacts. Finally, by completing a challenging graduate program, you will demonstrate the aptitude and commitment that employers seek.

If you’re a working adult, you may wonder whether it’s possible to continue working full-time while pursuing a master’s degree. You are already busy with work and personal obligations. Do you have the bandwidth for another significant commitment? Here’s the good news: many students successfully do it every year. In fact, well over one million students are enrolled in part-time graduate programs; many of them work full time. Yes, it can be done.

The key to success is to strike a balance between work and school so you can avoid burnout and perform well in both realms. This article reviews time-tested strategies to help you manage your computer science studies; more specifically, it discusses these strategies in the context of the Online Master of Science in Computer Science at Tulane University.

The Benefits of Pursuing an Online MSCS While Working

There are many good reasons to continue working while earning an MSCS. Your steady income will provide financial stability, career advancement opportunities, and the chance to apply degree-related skills in real time. Maintaining your career while broadening your horizons takes discipline and focus, but the result justifies the effort.

“As a full-time professional, you have to be prepared for the realities of long days and competing responsibilities,” Idealist observes. “Luckily, there are many options available. In some respects, there are actually some benefits to attending grad school with a full-time job.” Those benefits can include flexible scheduling and tuition reimbursement.

What Challenges Should Working Students Expect?

Common challenges for working MSCS students include managing their time, minimizing negative impact on work performance, handling stress, and avoiding burnout. ThoughtCo. advises preparing for such realities as spending two hours in preparation out of class for every hour spent in class and recognizing that flexible online schedules don’t equal unlimited time to complete assignments.

These concerns are valid and must be considered. However, the best MSCS programs offer student support services, flexible program design and pacing options, and a mix of asynchronous and synchronous course content. All these features make managing the workload easier.

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Strategies for Succeeding in the Classroom and Beyond

Balancing a full-time job and an MSCS degree program is doable. Here are three tried-and-true tips for managing your expanded responsibilities.

Create a Realistic Schedule

It may be tempting to write off your personal life while you’re juggling work and grad school, but that’s a sure recipe for burnout. People who navigate a successful path block out adequate time for work, study, and personal pursuits.

“[U]sing planned downtime or outings with loved ones as a way to motivate myself has been extremely helpful for completing assignments when I’m feeling overwhelmed or burned out,” online student Liz Wasden writes for Inside Higher Ed. “I also have weekly reserved time for relaxing. Every Friday evening after I’ve finished work for the day, I stay away from my computer and assignments and take time to recuperate.”

Her advice for working grad students includes:

  • Know the ebbs and flows of your work environment.
  • Work your classwork into your professional work, and vice versa.
  • Create small wins or achievements to help motivate you.
  • Collaborate with different people.

Leverage Employer Support

Earning an MSCS while working can benefit both the student and their employer, introducing new ideas and heightened skills to the workplace. Before starting a master’s degree program, talk to your employer and/or manager about your educational goals and how the program relates to your professional development within the organization. Provide a realistic assessment of the time commitment involved, and determine whether your workplace offers tuition assistance. U.S. law allows employers to contribute up to $5,250 tax-free toward an employee’s education each year. 

Talk to your HR department to determine whether your employer offers tuition benefits, and ask whether you qualify. You may have to demonstrate that the coursework is related to your job. Also, you may have to remain with your current employer for a specified period after receiving tuition benefits or pay them back if you leave early.

Maximize Online Learning Services

Top online master’s degree programs offer the same level of support as in-person students. They may include: 

  • Faculty office hours
  • Student support coaches
  • Study groups
  • Career counseling

Working professionals who pursue an online MSCS at Tulane University will discover a wealth of resources to help them find the middle ground between school, work, and personal life. Here they can make valuable peer connections, find their niche, and position themselves for career advancement.

Advantages of an online MSCS at Tulane include: 

  • Flexible scheduling, with full- and part-time options that allow you to set your own pace
  • Evening classes to accommodate working professionals
  • Network building, facilitated by small class sizes and students from an array of professional and geographical backgrounds
  • Specialization options in six areas: systems, data science, computational geometry, computational biology and bioinformatics, algorithms and theory, and artificial intelligence and machine learning
  • Career-advancement opportunities via enhanced skills and knowledge and a demonstrated commitment to self-improvement
  • Improved income opportunities, with an advanced degree opening doors to more complex roles with greater responsibilities
  • Academic opportunities, with an MSCS serving as a prerequisite for a doctorate in computer science – which can lead to even greater career opportunities and earning potential

Earning an online MSCS at Tulane means working closely with faculty and classmates. Distance learners have the same opportunities as on-campus students to ask questions, share insights, and receive feedback. Faculty members offer live office hours to enhance connections and boost your mastery of program concepts. 

Earn a Computer Science Master’s Degree in a Format that Fits Your Lifestyle

With an online MSCS from Tulane, there’s no need to hit the pause button on your career. The online format enables you to pursue a master’s degree in a format that meets your goals. Support from faculty, advisors, and peers will help you earn a valuable degree without compromising your professional growth or performance, all while prioritizing time management and your relationship with your employer.

Tulane offers these services and tools to qualified online students who want to earn an MSCS while working full time. For more information, contact an enrollment advisor to learn more about the comprehensive support available at Tulane, or start an application.

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